The Souvenir Shop at the Korean Cultural Village


The entrance to the souvenir shop at Suwon Cultural Village in Korea

“We have over 100 pictures! We just took too many pictures, you can’t use them all on your blog.” This is what my daughter tells me when she sees how many pictures we took when we went to the Cultural Village in Suwon. I told her I had the solution. I am going to talk to you guys about the souvenir shop separately because there is a lot in the souvenir shop at the entrance to the village and because I want you to understand what you are seeing. If you ever come to Korea, these are the kinds of things that will be available for you to take home with you. When I send gifts to my family in America, they usually get these kinds of things because they are nice and worth having. Often, I go over to Itaewon in Seoul when someone’s birthday or Christmas comes because they sell a lot of Korean souvenirs there. If you haven’t gotten any Korean gifts from me, consider this blog a gift for you to see some of the fascinating things for sale here. All foreigners in Korea eventually end up at Itaewon whether they plan to or not, so one day, I will go over there and show you Itaewon too, but for now, I will show you some of the souvenirs from the souvenir shop at the Korean Cultural Village in Suwon.

black lacquered mother of pearl jewelry boxes 

As we walk into the store, something immediately catches my eyes. They are in the middle of the shop in a tall glass case. They are expensive, but beautiful! There are jewelry boxes made from inlaid mother of pearl. A few years ago in Korea, it was popular to make furniture out of mother of pearl, but now a days, it has gone out of style, but it doesn’t stop it from being gorgeous! When someone is finished with their furniture in Korea, they put it out in the street for recycling, and the city or anyone who wants takes it away for free. The furniture may be really good condition, but Koreans always want everything new and updated, so when we first got here, my daughter found a low black lacquered cupboard out on the street with mother of pearl pictures on the doors. She insisted on taking it home, and we put our TV on it. My son in law says if we ever leave Korea, it is something he wants to take with him because it is very Korean. I have seen American military men buying things like this for their wives in Korea.

These figurines are wearing the clothes of the royalty of old Korea.  Often, they dress brides and grooms in these clothing now a days.

Next, we go toward the wall where there are many things displayed on shelves. I get a snapshot of two figurines in the traditional Korean royal clothes. When my daughter and son in law got married, they were asked to dress like these figurines because his family was part of the royal court when there were emperors in Korea and some still consider people like my son in law a type of royalty in Korea even though the emperor’s dynasties are gone. My daughter found that thing on the girl figurine’s head very cumbersome.

These dolls are wearing traditional clothing called hanbok. The woman is wearing one many brides wear because red is the color of the bride in both Korea and China. The man is holding a traditional Korean fan. His hat is made of horse’s hair. Below, you can see the turtle ship.

After that, I got a shot of Korean man and woman dolls in the traditional Korean hanboks. The hanbok is not just a dress. Hanbok literally means “Korean suit.” The hanbok you usually see women wearing has a red skirt and a yellow jacket. Red is the traditional color for the hanbok. Again, when my daughter got married, at the wedding reception, they were expected to wear traditional hanboks, and red is the color of the bride in both China and Korea. This is the type of hanbok my daughter wore at the wedding reception. The Koreans also expected me to wear a hanbok at the wedding, but they had my daughter changing clothes three times, and I wore the same hanbok all the way through the festivities. The hanbok is very comfortable to wear. My hanbok is actually pink and purple..

In Korea, when a baby reaches a year old (2 years old in Oriental age), they give a party celebrating the fact that the baby lived to its first birthday because there was a time many didn’t live that long.  When they give babies traditional birthday parties in Korea, the party is attended by adults. The whole family wears a hanbok, and often the husband, the wife, and the baby all wear matching hanboks.

The men’s hanboks are not the dresses like the women’s, but a pair of puffy pants and a jacket to match. The man doll in this picture is wearing one of the traditional black hats made out of horse hair. If you haven’t read my blog about the Cultural Village, you should find it and read about how these hats originated. The man is also holding a fan. I know that American men wouldn’t carry a fan around, but men in the Orient do. When we were in Japan, my son had a very funny reaction to seeing men with fans. He thought they were completely strange. I bought a doll like this woman doll to give to the representative of Ibaraki Christian University when she came to visit. Japan has dolls like this too, but the Japanese dolls wear kimonos instead of hanboks. There is a system of gift giving in Japan where you give someone a gift if you want to be friends with them, and then they give a gift back if they also want to be friends. I knew she would be bringing gifts, so I was prepared and bought one of these to give her. It is on display in the International Student Office at Ibaraki Christian University.

If you are wondering why when we call a baby a year old, the Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese say they are 2 years old, it is a different way of thinking.  They consider their babies a year old when they are born when we consider them 0. They begin counting they say from the time of conception.  If Americans thought more like this, the people who think abortion is okay may get the message easier that it is murder. A few years ago, a controversy arose at the Olympics in China because people were saying the Chinese were lying about some of the athlete’s ages, but they weren’t. It was just a cultural misunderstanding.


After looking at the dolls, I take a picture of the Buddhist bell. When I first came to Korea, I bought one of these for my dad. If you read my blog about going to the North Korean border, they have a huge one up there much taller than a man, and you are actually invited to ring it, and it takes strength to do. Next to the Buddhist bell, I took a picture of a miniature hanoak, the traditional Korean house, and after that, a lantern.


a replica of a hanoak, a traditional Korean house

Next, I turn a corner, and see a wall full of traditional wooden masks. I have bought masks like this for my oldest son because he always liked to dress up, but the masks I bought him hang on the wall of his house. These masks were used by the performers in the ancient days of Korea. Sometimes, they put on plays in the public square for everyone to see, and sometimes they put on plays in the courtyard of the emperor or governors.

wooden masks that were worn when they put on plays on the center of the village or the emperor’s courts

As I keep going, I see lots of pottery. Some are vases; some are cups and plates. I see a replica of the drums they play in the traditional Korean music. These drums are actually quite big. You sit on the floor to play them with a drum stick. They put out a big bong, bong sound when they play the traditional Korean music. Sometimes, the drum is the only music they play when they are singing their traditional Korean songs. Koreans have told me that in their traditional Korean religions, they made a lot of noise trying to get the attention of the gods, and these drums were used.


a replica of a Korean traditional drum

Close to the drums in the same case, I see a replica of a stringed instrument. The Koreans call these gayagum, but the Japanese call them the koto. They sit on the floor, and when you think of the traditional oriental music sound with a tune being played in the background on some sort of string instrument, it is probably the gayagum or koto you heard. When I was in Japan as a student, I was actually lucky enough to learn to play one of these. They are long and sit in the floor, probably the length of your leg. I have actually seen some bigger than others. I learned to play “Sakura” on one, a traditional Japanese song about cherry blossoms. The Japanese have had a lot of influence on the Koreans, so I don’t know if this instrument originally came from Korea or Japan.

Koreans call these the gayagum, and the Japanese call them the koto.

On the opposite wall, another group of dolls catch my eye. They are holding the Korean dance fans. The Korean women do a beautiful dance with these fans. You can probably find a video online somewhere of them doing the dance.Korean Airlines had one going for a while as an advertisement for their airlines online.  In Japan, they dance with fans too, but the Korean dance is different from the Japanese dance. In Japan, they dance around with beautiful fans dressed in simple, but beautiful flowered summer kimonos made from cotton called yukatas or fancy brocade kimonos with white makeup on their faces, but there are no feathers on their fans. However, the Korean dance fans have feathers on them, and the Koreans don’t dance alone. A huge group of women or girls dance together. They line up in a row or all get into a circle and hold their fans out in a line flowing up and down in unison. They look like a moving flower, and it is something really worth seeing! My daughter was able to take part with a group of girls the first year we came to Korea and did this dance with them. You usually can’t find these dance fans in the souvenir shops, but have to know where to get them if you want some, and I have bought them to give as gifts at times for Americans who come to visit us in Korea.

dolls with the Korean dance fans edged with feathers

I saw some traditional combs and some traditional fans, but I didn’t get a picture of them. The combs have flowers and jewels at one end, and the comb part is really long. When the Korean women are married, traditionally, they put their hair up in a bun with these combs. My daughter has one a friend gave her, and sometimes she puts her hair up with it, but the Korean women don’t wear them much anymore. More often than not, if the weather is hot, you will see them with their hair up in a ponytail and a baseball cap now a days. As for the fans, I didn’t take a picture because traditional Korean fans aren’t very colorful. They may have interesting pictures on them, but traditional ones only use black ink on a white background to make the pictures. I like their fans, and I even give them as gifts because I like them, but if you are looking for something that is flashy, their traditional fans are not. If you want to see a picture of a traditional fan, look back at the picture of the Korean man and woman wearing hanboks, and he is holding a traditional fan.

Next, I see a row of pigs. The pig is very important in Korea because it is the symbol of wealth to the Koreans. In America, we think of a pig as a disgusting fat animal who spends their time in mud and stinks up the neighborhood, and if someone eats too much or makes too many messes, we call them a pig, but there is a different attitude toward them here. I actually haven’t seen anyone raising them here, but I have in Romania, and I can see how they became the symbol of wealth. If you own a pig, you can feed them almost anything. You can even get by with not buying any feed, but feeding them left overs and weeds. When they have babies, they have lots of babies, and you can sell them to get money and keep some of them for meat and to have more pigs. In ancient agricultural societies like Korea used to be, I really understand why they became the symbol of wealth.

On the other side of the pigs, I spot some plates with the mother of pearl inlaid on lacquered dishes. As you can see, these things are beautiful! They are also expensive. Maybe a husband could buy it for his wife to show her how special she is.

About this time, a store clerk asks me to stop taking pictures. My daughter makes the comment that she doesn’t realize it, but pictures of things in her shop will go all over the internet, and it will be like a kind of advertisement for her goods, but I complied and stopped taking pictures. You have a good idea of what we saw in the shop. We decide to go on and see the Cultural Village now. If you haven’t read that blog, you should because the Cultural Village is a fascinating place. Perhaps when I take a trip to Itaewon I will see more interesting souvenirs to show you.

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